Walk-off win over Mets continues Braves' comeback trend
ATLANTA — Not everyone believes in the Atlanta Braves, the diaper dandies, the darlings of the early part of the 2018 baseball season. But they believe in themselves, and as they linger in first place two months into the campaign, the Braves’ self-belief has been enough.
That was evident again Tuesday, when the Braves capped off an exceptionally crappy day for the visiting Mets, storming all the way back from a 6-2 deficit that was capped by the first career walk-off home run for Johan Camargo.
The 7-6 win allowed the Braves to stick in first place for at least one more day. Atlanta leads the Nationals by a half-game in the National League East, with a four-game series against Washington slated to begin Thursday at SunTrust Park.
“We want that DNA of being a team that never quits and is always battling,” Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte said. “Doesn’t matter who is pitching or who is coming from the bullpen. We just want to put good at-bats and score runs. We know we can score runs at any point in the game.”
That Washington series remains one to circle on the MLB schedule, thanks to yet another of the late-game comebacks that are becoming this team’s trademark. On Monday, Atlanta knocked off the Mets on Charlie Culberson‘s game-winning, two-run homer. Two days, two walk-off homers. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s exactly how many walk-off homers the Braves hit during the 2017 season.
“We’d rather do it earlier in the game,” Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said. “I think it’s just the guys. We just don’t seem to panic. I think that starts at the top. You just stay in what you can control.”
These things can get contagious, but what seems to be apparent about the surprising Braves is that they have a collective calmness that you’d associate with a team that has been contending for years. We remind you: Last season, Atlanta lost 90 games.
“These guys just never stop,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “They never quit grinding out at-bats and doing really good things.”
Camargo’s game winner was a low, lined shot into the short porch in left field off the first pitch he saw from Mets reliever Gerson Bautista. Bautista was perhaps New York’s last, best option out of the bullpen on a day when the Mets lost two rotation members to finger injuries, were dealing with a bullpen exhausted by Monday’s epic-length doubleheader and fielded a roster left one player short when they couldn’t get an extra hand to Atlanta on time to replace newly disabled ace Noah Syndergaard.
But for all the frustration emanating from the Mets’ side of the ballpark, it was all joking, dancing and thundering hip-hop music on the Braves’ side. Camargo had extra reason to be happy. His mother was on hand for the first time all season — and it was her birthday. Maybe that was part of the reason Camargo had a good feeling when he stepped to the dish with the game tied in the ninth.
“I was looking forward to the opportunity,” Camargo said via a team interpreter. “Not that you can predict it or anything like that, but I was really optimistic and kept my head up the entire time. I was talking to [rookie outfielder Ronald] Acuna a lot, and I kept repeating to him, ‘I’m going to get a good hit on this.'”
Why wouldn’t Camargo feel good about his chances, and those of his team? These late-game surges are nothing new for Atlanta. After Tuesday’s win, the Braves have scored a National League-best 100 runs in the seventh inning or later. Only the AL’s Astros (107) have scored more. Atlanta now has five walk-off wins on the season. The best part of it all might be that five different players have delivered the game winners.
“I don’t see anybody panicking,” Snitker said. “There is nobody ranting and raving. They’re in there cheering each other on. They’re in there pulling for each other. There is a calm confidence, I guess you could call it.”
Generally speaking, divisions aren’t won on the strength of comeback wins or late-game offensive breakouts. Eventually, the Braves are going to have to get back to mixing in a few easy ones if they want to hang with fellow surprise team Philadelphia and the surging Nationals, still the consensus pick to win another division crown.
But these wins can bridge a period in which the Braves cling to their lofty spot in the standings while the front office evaluates external, and internal, fixes to the roster. Maybe that’s a point that was lost to Mets broadcast and former big league All-Star Keith Hernandez, who dismissed the Braves on social media. The second game of Monday’s doubleheader was a late one, so maybe Hernandez was just cranky.
“I imagine some of their guys over there might feel differently about that,” Flowers said. “[Closer] Dan Winkler is tough to catch, much less to hit. You can kind of go down the line with a few other guys [in the bullpen] as well. Some of them just haven’t been doing it for that long, so maybe he’s just not as familiar with them. I’m sure he will be over the course of the season.”
With another improbable win, the Braves’ improbable season continues to gather momentum. No one knows where this will lead, but while it lasts, it’s rather enjoyable.
“This is so much fun,” Winkler said. “I can’t say enough about this team. It’s just so much fun just to be out there. I told someone that it’s like being back in the backyard playing ball. It’s so much fun to be on the mound and watch this team compete.”